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SAIC Community: Who Will Pick up the Gopher?

In a small town in rural Illinois a meek, shaved gopher shivers behind scrub brush along State Route 52. The crisp, cutting wind stipples his furless flesh as he surveys the dusty road for autos. Empty hours pass. Day turns to night as the decades go by. Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual floods record stores coast-to-coast. Still no passing cars. The pavement gives way to weeds, cracking like the spirit of an unnoticed finger-painting. Information technology blooms upon the face of the modern world and the gopher remains silent, shivering, shaved. Just then: traffic. A knock-kneed branch of bone slowly rises abreast the wilted rodent, straining perpendicular. An opposable protuberance accents the outstretched arm and adds spring to the hitchhiker's snare. Ponterelli's Shuttle-Bus eases to a halt. Though it is not general practice to pick up stray gophers, this one looks especially cute and in need of a ride. The driver eases her hand onto the door-latch . . . pauses.

Should she pick up the gopher? You make the call.

That naked and witless gopher with mutant opposable-thumbs stranded in downstate Illinois is SAIC's sense of community. We have an opportunity now to rescue up that sense of community from distant oblivion and nurse it into a healthy, thriving symbol of wonderful togetherness.

Since last summer Student Government has been attending a host of meetings with administrators in an attempt to nourish our frail community. Discussions have covered such possibilities as expanding our common student spaces, relocating and refurbishing the student services on the 7th floor of the Sharp Building, improving the flyer-posting process around campus, improving recycling, establishing a computer-kiosk information system on campus, refurbishing the 2nd floor lounge space, selling SAIC-related t-shirts and merchandise, providing more opportunities for physical activities on campus, painting everyone green, and padding every classroom with spun cotton. Although the last two are the most likely to happen by the spring, I'd like to briefly highlight one project we're working on that might even happen sooner: improving the Internet-based community at SAIC.

What we'd all really like is a comprehensive Internet-based resource for students where they could not only communicate with each other but also get crucial information about their accounts, financial aid, and course offerings, as well as register online. We realize these things take time; however, we are anxious to provide students with meaningful advances in the interim. Those of you who have artic.edu accounts have already experienced the first step of progress: e-mail digests. Instead of receiving seven different updates from seven different departments you now receive just one digest e-mail each day. The next step is to provide students with a quick and easy means for communicating with each other over the web.

This web-communiqué could take on many forms and we're still searching for the right solution for SAIC. Our best option right now seems to be some sort of electronic bulletin board where students could post (possibly unmoderated) messages for other students to read. One of the advantages of this sort of system is that we would be able to create special boards for specific topics. Under this system, if a group of students want to create a forum to discuss, say, "pornography as art," a special board could be created for it and everyone would be invited to participate in that discussion. This system would also allow students to post more liberally moderated messages to the entire SAIC community without flooding everyone's e-mail inbox.

One element of all this that's not negotiable is security. Whatever expansions our Internet services at the school undergo, the entire system will remain just as secure as webmail is today. That means access to these services will be strictly limited to students, faculty, and staff of SAIC. (You will probably have to enter a password.) So if you post a message on the "my parents blow" board, you won't have to worry about Mom reading it.

Security does not mean, however, locking down the free speech of students. That's one of the reasons why we want an updated service. Currently, if you want to send an e-mail to all students at SAIC, you can e-mail it to [email protected] It then goes to a moderator in the museum whose job it is to decide if your message should go out to everyone. They look at language as well as content. That means you can't call everyone a useless dingbat and you can't invite everyone to the cool party in your dorm room this weekend. Those types of messages, currently, would probably be blocked.

We're talking with Information Services (the guys in charge of actually doing all this) right now and trying to implement some of these ideas by the end of the Spring semester. Look for signs of good things around the corner and keep your eyes peeled for hairless rodents. They don't all have rabies.

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